Are food regulators up to the job?

In this week’s Saturday seminar, we’re collecting scholarship on quality and safety issues in US food regulations.

Poor diet is the leading cause of death in the United States, as nutrition and obesity-related diseases kill more than half a million people every year. Some experts say inadequate food safety regulations are to blame.

Food security directly affects every American citizen, every day. With every visit to the grocery store, meal and morning coffee, food safety regulations are at stake.

Over the past two decades, processed foods have grown to dominate the American food system. Studies suggest that ultra-processed foods account for more than half of consumers’ caloric intake.

Although the growing popularity of processed foods has resulted in tasty, affordable and sustainable products, some researchers claim that these products are harmful to the health of consumers. To produce particular flavors, colors, scents and textures, manufacturers use a variety of additives, which some experts have linked to disease and premature death. And some reports have raised concerns about toxic additives in product packaging and contaminated soil.

Studies have linked diets high in these ultra-processed foods to an increased risk of chronic non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease, certain cancers and even dementia. .

These concerns raise a key question: who regulates this food system? Under the current regulatory framework, three main federal agencies oversee food safety regulation in the United States: the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA ) of the United States and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. .

The Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act regulates processed products entering the food supply, and its Food Additives Amendment regulates additives. The latter law requires additives to undergo a premarket review by the FDA, unless the substance meets one of the few exceptions. The BOLD layout is one such exception; it allows manufacturers to use substances without FDA review if they are “generally recognized as safe”. FDA officials have suggested that exceptions such as GRAS are safe and effective, enabling continued innovation within the food industry. Critics of GRAS argue that it is a loophole that facilitates the under-regulation of potentially harmful food additives.

What are the inherent risks in the US food system and are regulators intervening?

In this week’s Saturday seminar, we feature the work of scholars addressing food safety issues and potential solutions to its regulation in the United States.

  • In an article published in the California Law Review, Emily M. Broad Leib of Harvard Law School and Margot J. Pollans of the Pace Elisabeth Haub School of Law argue for a broader definition of “food safety” in the United States. Leib and Pollans argue that the current regulatory approach to food safety, largely confined to isolated cases of foodborne illness or acute ingestion-related risks, is too narrow. According to them, the American food system has too many under-regulated risks. Lieb and Pollans advocate greater regulation of health risks related to long-term ingestion and systemic issues related to food production, distribution, storage, and disposal. In addition, they propose a comprehensive regulatory approach that would assess risks cumulatively rather than individually. Broadening the scope of regulation would allow for more accurate cost-benefit analysis and provide the public with better access to information, they argue.
  • In an article published in the Journal of Food and Drug Law, Roxana R. Soroudi discusses the dangers of food additives and their regulation in the United States. Finding that the current regulatory system is inadequate, Soroudi provides a critique of the GRAS provision of the Food Additive Amendment of 1958. She argues that the current regulatory framework allows manufacturers to make independent GRAS decisions without informing the FDA, allowing them to bypass agency surveillance entirely. . Allowing manufacturers to self-determine the safety of their own ingredients defies the regulatory process, argues Soroudi. She argues that this poses a great threat to consumer health and access to accurate food information. Instead, Soroudi proposes mandating FDA notification, prohibiting new substances from achieving GRAS status, and expanding acute risk assessment to cumulative risk assessment.
  • In a recent article published in the Maryland Law Review, Deepti A. Kulkarni of the Georgetown University Law Center discusses how regulators have responded to modern advances in food production and processing. She explains that while consumer expectations and interests have evolved significantly, regulators created by laws enacted nearly half a century ago face the challenge of regulating today. According to Kulkarni, the age of these statutes raises questions about the effectiveness of the current regulatory system. She argues that the extent to which laws such as the Plant Protection Act and the federal Insecticides, Fungicides, and Rodenticides Act appropriately address the profusion of new food products on the market depends on government policies. agency or state involved. Although some agencies have successfully implemented new policies, such as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service did with its final rule amending genetic engineering regulations, others continue to face a substantial uncertainty, according to Kulkarni.
  • Zemichael Gizaw of the University of Gondar explores common safety risks in today’s food market in a recent literature review published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine. Gizaw represents seven common safety-related public health risks around the world that expose consumers to a variety of chemical, biological and physical contaminants harmful to human health. Although some risks may be specific to a region or country, the modern food market spreads these effects across national borders, says Gizaw. Specifically, it finds that public health risks related to food safety are most common in developing countries, where regulatory authorities are weak and may not enforce compliance with hygiene and safety requirements. security.
  • In a working paper published as part of the Bayreuth Food Law Working Paper Series, Jessica Vapnek of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, Kai P. Purnhagen of the University of Bayreuth and Ben Hillel from Gambit Legal, APC compare the regulation of novel foods in the United States and the European Union (EU). According to Vapnek, Purnhagen and Hillel, novel foods are foods produced using new technologies. In the United States, authorities do not specifically define or regulate novel foods, they explain. The EU, however, has a specific regulatory framework for novel foods, discuss Vapnek, Purnhagen and Hillel. They explain that due to these different approaches to regulation, foods containing nanomaterials, which are regulated as novel foods in the EU, are subject to stricter requirements and monitoring in the EU than in the USA.
  • In an article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Claudia Campanale of the Italian Water Research Institute and several co-authors analyze the effects of additives on human health. The EU classifies as hazardous many substances that are regular ingredients in everyday products in the EU, Campanale and coauthors note. Microplastics transfer to food in plastic-based packaging during processing and storage, and then the chemical additives they contain can contaminate the soil in which the food grows, they explain. Campanale and his co-authors claim that ingesting contaminated food is one of the main ways microplastics enter the human body, and they also cite a recent study that found significant amounts of microplastics in sugar, salt, alcohol and bottled water.

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